Bigger Reveal: Josh Funk is …

… now represented by an actual, non-imaginary, literary agent. Through a series of mistaken identities and semi-unintentional distorted truths, I have managed to coerce convince Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency to represent my efforts to become a published picture book author.

Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Logo

Stepping out of my sarcastic, self-deprecating shell for a paragraph or so, I would very much like to thank Kathleen for taking me on as a client. I also want to thank all of the literary (and non-literary) friends who’ve supported me getting this far (but remember, I’m only on step 17 of 25 on how to get traditionally published according to Delilah S. Dawson).

Turtle
Fine. I’ll step out of my sarcastic shell.

I feel pretty lucky to have the opportunity to work with Kathleen. The best part is that I think she really ‘gets’ my writing. So let us all wish Kathleen the best of luck – ’cause now it’s her job to work with me

Four Questions from a Monster

Would I like to participate in a Blog Hop? This was the question posed to me by Paul Czajak (author of multiple picture books about a monster named Monster). Of course, I answered yes! Here’s a little more about Paul and don’t forget to check out his blog hop entry here:

Paul CzajakPaul Czajak got an ‘F’ with the words “get a tutor” on his college writing paper and after that, never thought he’d become a writer. But after spending twenty years as a chemist, he knew his creativity could no longer be contained. His first picture book, Monster Needs A Costume, illustrated by Wendy Grieb was recently released through Scarletta Kids.  This is the first picture book in the Monster & Me series (all of which will be illustrated by Wendy), with the second, Monster Needs His Sleep due April 2014 and then Monster Needs A Christmas Tree set for September 2014.  He has also recently signed a contract for Seaver the Weaver which will be illustrated by Ben Hilts of The Hilts Brothers and is planned for April 2015.

So let’s get right to the nitty-gritty.

Blog Hop Question #1: What are you working on right now?

Well, I am writing a post on my blog called Four Questions from a Monster. Wow, that was an easy one. Let’s go to question #2.

Blog Hop Question #2: How does it differ from other works in the genre?

What? Wait. I think I might have misunderstood question #1.

Oh, what ‘writing projects’ am I working on? I’m in the middle of lots of stuff, but it all involves picture book manuscripts and rhyming. You see, I have impeccable rhythm and rhyming ability (when I write). Mama Funk will tell you my rhythm outside of writing is (what’s the opposite of impeccable? blemished? I’ll go with that) blemished. Some of it involves alien caterpillars. Others involve megalomaniac grasshoppers. I’m really into insects. Or maybe all of that is a lie.

But how does it differ from other works? Well, first of all, it isn’t published. That’s one difference.

But seriously, what I’d like to say is different from some (not all) works in the genre, is that my writing is intended to entertain both parents and children. If it can’t entertain parents, then who is going to read it to the kids? I want to enjoy the books that my many many offspring bring to me at bed time(s). There are lots of books that entertain kids, and many that entertain me. Some entertain all of us. That’s what I’d like to see more of, so that’s one thing I’m trying to do.

Blog Hop Question #3: Why do you write what you write?

I really should have read through these questions before I started typing. I write what I write because I want children and parents to be entertained (as I said while answering question #2).

But I have other reasons. I think that children’s books should also educate. Picture books should push the boundaries of language and teach kids new words. Not always through definitions and glossaries. And not so that parents will have to stop and explain what a word means. Picture books have pictures, so kids can glean meanings from context, especially if the books are read multiple times. I’m not saying I want my five-year-old to speak like Charles Wallace, but I really don’t want to dumb it down for him.

I also try to be unique. I’m sure many people endeavor toward originality, and along the way, I’m sure agents, publishers, acquisition editors, etc. push to the mainstream.  But I’ve read enough books where a bear needs to learn how to get dressed (if you wrote a book like this, I apologize – I am not thinking of any book in particular).

There are lots of unique books being published today, but again, I want more!

Blog Hop Question #4: What is the hardest part about writing?

So many possible answers … which one do I pick?

  • Coming up with an idea?
  • Hammering out that first full draft?
  • Receiving discouraging critiques?
  • Revising?
  • Writing queries?
  • Submitting?
  • Receiving rejections?
  • Promoting?
  • Travel away from your family?
  • Paparazzi?

(many of those I haven’t yet experienced)

I’m going to go with waiting (I swear I wrote this before reading Paul’s answer to this question – although I’m not surprised we share the same one).

Tom Petty

Whether it’s

  • waiting for critiques
  • waiting for an answer from an agent
  • waiting for an answer from an editor
  • waiting for an answer from an acquisitions team
  • waiting to see your illustrator’s interpretation of your text
  • waiting to see your book in print
  • waiting for your release day
  • waiting for your launch party
  • waiting for your sales numbers
  • waiting for your royalty check
  • or waiting for the whole chain to start again …

(again, I have not experienced most of those)

Waiting is definitely the hardest part about writing. So what do I do while I’m waiting? I write more, of course!

And now, to pass this blog hop on to more willing participants. If you see links below, you know I have writer friends who are interested in sharing their lives with you. So click over to them. And be sure to click backward to Paul Czajak’s as well!

Maybe

So, I don’t really have anything to blog about. Then why I am I writing a post, you ask? I don’t have an answer. Maybe one will come to me before I hit the Publish Button button.

Maybe I have nothing to post about. Maybe I’ve done nothing ‘blog-worthy’ since I last posted (on August 12th?).

Maybe I traveled through time and jumped from August 12th to September 23rd?

Maybe I’ve run out of sarcastic things to say? Or maybe I’m pouring my sarcasm down the avenues of Facebook, twitter, and my writing?

Maybe all of my computers and phones and pads have been broken.

Maybe I’ve partaken in so many exciting events that I simply haven’t had any time to blog about it? Maybe I’ve been book launches, craft chats, and critiquering groups.Maybe I was in a coma, suffered while on a jungle safari.

Maybe I’ve been so busy submitting manuscripts to agents and editors.

Maybe I’ve become so glum and depressed collecting rejections and the absence of rejections from said agents and editors.

Maybe I don’t need a reason. I just didn’t.

Or maybe …

500 Words of Summer

As a picture book writer (not author until I’m published), I often think about picture books. I read lots of them to my opulence of children. I sometimes review them. I try to try to write them. But what are picture books? What makes a good one? What makes a marketable one? What is publishable and what is not? Where is the world of picture books headed?

Before you get too excited, I do not have the answers to all (or any?) of these questions. I am (at a minimum) 6 steps away from the

  1. readers who decide what to buy from the many
  2. reviewers who decide what to review from the many
  3. publicists and acquisition teams who decide what to print  from the many books brought to them by the
  4. editors who only read submissions sent to them from
  5. agents who spend their time doing their ‘real’ jobs working with clients and doing their best to trudge through their slush piles full of material sent from the plethora of
  6. writers

(and I’ve probably missed a few steps along the way – yes, the New York Times reviewer can only print what his editor allows him to print, but you get the idea).

So who decides what makes a good picture book? Ultimately, it’s the reader, right? The child. But for a large portion of picture books, the parent will be reading to a child who cannot yet read to her or himself. So the parent must like it as well. Otherwise they’ll hide annoying picture books in the cupboard under the stairs where the kids can’t get to them. For some reason (a debate that I’m not going to go into here because this blog is about writing and books, not about parenting), it is believed that parents don’t have the time to read long picture books to their kids any more. When I dove into the world of children’s book writing, the first thing I learned was that picture book word counts should be at no more than 500 words in the current marketplace.

500 words.

If you’ve read every word in this post, you’ve already read precisely 361 words up to this point. If this post were a picture book, I’d better start wrapping it up right now. Recently, I’ve heard rumors that 600 words … or even 800 (shocking!) might be acceptable. I’m not sure I believe it, though – I still hesitate to cross the 500 word limit (I’ve even coded my word processor to highlight all words after the 500th in pink, like when you’ve written a tweet that’s too long).

There are some great picture books under 500 words. And because the picture book industry is on a two-year-tape-delay (it takes two years from the time of procurement to publish-date), we’ve got at least two years ahead of some very short texts coming. However, some picture books simply can’t be written in under 500 words. Some characters can’t be developed in under 500 words. I’m not saying I’m interested in reading a picture book that takes longer to read than a Geronimo Stilton or Magic Tree House (Morgan mission, not Merlin). I have one book (the first adventure of the S.S. Happiness Crew) that I swear takes a half hour to read … and I dread whenever one of the overabundance of children selects it (although Jane Dutton – not to be confused with the superlative Jane Sutton –  does a good job of developing 6 detailed characters).

But 500 words? A wise sage recently said that “Some of the most celebrated PBs lately have been more like long jokes rather than stories.” Is this truly the state of the picture book? A long joke rather than a story? We’re too busy to read a plotted picture book – a long joke is the best we can do? Forget character development?

I think (hope) things get easier once you’re published and have credentials. Industry people may know your name and look at your book even though it’s got 512 words in it. Your agent might know a publisher who is interested in printing a Nate the Great style book with ~2,000 words in it.

Maybe e-reader apps will read more picture books aloud to kids and longer books will be appreciated as you get more bang for your buck (time-wise) – as opposed to a book that’s read in under 3 minutes.

As that’s what ultimately decides the success of a picture book, right? The all mighty dollar (or, as Homer says, ‘the all ighty ollar’).

The All Ighty Ollar

If nobody buys the best book ever written, is it truly the best book ever written? If it never gets published, is it even a book? And thank you for suggesting self-publishing. Alas, I am not an illustrator and just not ready to go down this road.

So, in conclusion, the state of the picture book: 500 words or less. For at least another two years in print. Will there be a backlash? We must keep waiting to find out. And I’m sorry if you’re colorblind or red hurts your eyes. I felt I had to get this all out in one post. And I’m trying to prove a point.

-349

Break All the Rules!

I’m going to start (or continue?) breaking all the rules of writing children’s books. I’m tired of characters having to learn things on their journeys. Why does a story need an arc? Does tension really need to build throughout the story? Who says proper grammar and speling must to be used at all times? Formulas are sooooooo boring! Drab! Lifeless! Tiresome! Prosaic!

While many claim they want to find the next new exciting thing, too often do I hear “there’s no place in the market for that” or “I didn’t feel the tension build enough” or “16,000 words is too long for a picture book” or “you spelled my name wrong in your query letter.”

But who are the most beloved children’s book authors? The ones that were different! The ones who pushed the boundaries! The ones who changed children’s book writing forever! Roald Dahl’s The Twits is about a disgusting pair of hateful adults. Dr. Seuss’s books are full of nonsensical gibberish! Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is only ten sentences long! Mo Willems’ Pigeon character started off as a gag for friends! And we love those classics.

Even this past year’s Caldecott Medal winning book (an award given for illustration, I know) is about a fish who stole a hat from a shark and (possibly) gets eaten at the end. This book has no arc, no tension, no lesson! It’s just a bunch of things happening (and not even that many things). It’s terrifically illustrated, of course, but it breaks every rule. It’s possible there’s a lesson – don’t steal a hat from a shark or it might (or might not) eat you – or don’t steal, if you want to really get into it, but I wonder how many kids are picking that up, let alone adults, let alone the author/illustrator who wrote the book.

I’m not saying I want to write a noir murder mystery picture book for toddlers (although that might be kind of cool). But I would like to write a picture book where a bunch of fun stuff happens, that would be cool for an illustrator to illustrate. One that would entertain kids over and over again. Sans arc, tension, lesson and traditional formula. If the idea is entertaining enough, none of that should be necessary.

And that’s what I plan on doing. Formula-free. Pushing the boundary. Possibly unpublishable (hopefully not).

That’s what Papa J Runk is all about!

 

Dear Query

Dear Query Recipient,

A query that was intended to go from a writer’s page to an editor’s slush pile travels through mailboxes, is crumpled by postal carriers, and is fumbled by assistants before ultimately falling behind the radiator to her death.

In the tragic novel QUERY (too many or to few words), a paper query ventures on the ill-fated journey to the editor’s slush pile. While the journey starts out promising with a properly sealed envelope with appropriate contact information, Query is continuously tempted by other parcels to abandon her quest. While avoiding the pitfalls common to many road-trip novels (nearly missing flights, running low on postage, hitch-hiking in the folds of the SEARS catalog), Query finally meets her true love – the Verizon bill. Unfortunately, due to a case of mistaken identity, the Verizon bill is killed by a junk mail assassin confusing an 8 for a 6 in a zip code. Query blames herself for the death (believing she was the one who smudged the 8), and drifts aimlessly along until finding her way into the hands of the intended editor’s assistant. But like all novels with tragic endings, this novel has a tragic ending. Query is placed on the top of the slush pile after the editor has left for a long weekend. But as the janitor comes to clean the editor’s grandiosely vast temple of an office, she inadvertently bumps Query off the slush pile into the crack behind the radiator where she slowly burns, chars, and crumbles to dusty ash before anyone has a chance to notice her.

But there is an amazing twist! The query was actually for a terrible rhyming (*groan*) picture book (something about anthropomorphic breakfast foods) – something that should never be published. So unlike most tragic novels, this novel ends happily (for all editors – and readers –  of the world, that is. But not for Query, as she is dead).

I am a member of the SQBWI and a member of a query critique group. I am currently working on several queries, but I thought you would particularly like this one because it involves queries. When I am not writing queries, I am usually querying myself as to why I am not currently writing a query.

Thank you for your time. I very much look forward to querying you again.

Queryingly yours,

Wydue I. Query